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Chilean Geologist Says Global Mining Industry Will Never be the Same

Release Date: October 15, 2010

Note to news media: A videotaped interview with Cortés is available at http://bit.ly/9JbjMP

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Joaquin Cortés, PhD, a visiting assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo, a Chilean native and former staff member of the Chilean Geological Survey (Sernageomin) says that the San Jose mine disaster will alter, dramatically and forever, small mining operations throughout the world.

"The global mining industry will never be the same after this," says Cortés, who worked in Chile's Los Sauces copper mine early in his career as a mapping geologist and then worked as a staff geologist in the Chilean Geological Survey (Servicio Nacional de Geologia y Mineria; Sernageomin), which oversees mine inspections.

"Knowing the operating conditions of small copper and gold enterprises in Chile and, in particular, those that have been active for more than a hundred years, the miners were incredibly lucky throughout this whole ordeal," he says.

"Nevertheless, the disaster has put a major focus on safety in these small mining companies, not just in Chile, but throughout the world. Situations like this more often end in tragedy, such as the recent examples in China and West Virginia."

Cortés says that there are more than 800 mines in the Copiapó region alone and several thousand throughout the country, some of which are so large that they are like underground cities, complete with roads, traffic lights, hospitals and restaurants.

With its current level of resources, he says Chile is not able to perform sufficient inspections on its mines.

"This whole event is going to result in fundamental changes for operations in Chile's small mining enterprises, and possibly for those in other parts of the world as well," he says.

Right after the San Jose mine collapsed, Cortés says, the Chilean president fired several top officials at the Chilean Geological Survey.

"I think he will be making more dramatic changes in the legislation regarding safety in small enterprises, which will probably improve the rights and working conditions of the miners," Cortés says. "It is likely that such changes will be an example followed by other countries in the world.

"Chile is a resilient country with an important mining culture," Cortés concludes. "We have appropriate technologies and expertise. That is why this story, and a rescue operation unlike any that has been performed in the industry before, finished with a happy ending."

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